Mastering Saumur with Arnaud Lambert
Gaining a worldwide understanding of wine takes decades. You start in a region that we find enjoyment in, or a connection to, that prompts you to dig deeper and explore. Over time you expand your views, often to similar regions or one that grows and bottles a variety that you’ve grown to love. Then you start to meet like-minded individuals, and they introduce you to new wines and new experiences. However, at some point in a wine lover’s life, a decision needs to be made. Will you explore the world of wine and discover all it has to offer, or will you remain happy in your comfort zone?
There is no right or wrong answer here, but my decision was to explore the world of wine. And guess what? After twelve years, I am still learning. Just recently, I was given the chance to dig deep into the Loire Valley, beyond the most famous categories of Chinon and Sancerre.
This was a study of Saumur and Saumur Champigny
The Loire Valley, located in the North of France along the River Loire, had for a long time been relatively ignored by the majority of wine lovers internationally due to its production of lifted and piercingly acid-driven wines, in a time when weight on the palate and ripeness of fruit was the trend. However, over the past five to ten years, a spotlight has been shone upon the region by passionate Sommeliers and foodies. Which makes sense, since the wines come across as gastronomic themselves, with saline-minerality and limestone-infused personalities. Frankly, these are wines to enjoy with food, where they excel, or in the case of Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc from Saumur and Saumur Champigny, any time a thirst needs quenching.
Speaking of thirst and Saumur brings me to a winery and location that is producing some of the most electrifying, thirst-quenching, yet also important wines in the region–and at a price point that is unbelievable: the Domaine Arnaud Lambert, which until recently was known as two different properties, Domaine de Saint-Just and Chateau de Breze.
With the bigger names of Anjou to the west and Chinon and Sancerre to the east, it’s easy to see why most of world has missed Saumur for both dry red and white wine production, especially since its first claim to fame was made through the sparkling Cremants that are both widely satisfying and very easy on the wallet. However, within its confines are a small number of producers who have been breathing new life into the region, yet none other can claim both the size and focus on terroir that the Domaine Arnaud Lambert can.
The Making of Domaine Arnaud Lambert
With a combined 50 hectares of vineyards to work, the Domaine currently produces seventeen individual still-wine bottlings. Each one hales from a distinct terroir, and often from within a Clos (a walled in section) of the famed and vast Breze vineyard.
However, this was not a family that was born into winemaking, nor was it able to fall back on generations of tradition. In fact, much of what Arnaud has accomplished took place in only the last twenty years. The Domaine was originally started in 1996 by Arnaud’s father, under the name Domaine de Saint-Just, while Arnaud worked to complete his degrees in viticulture and oenology. Both Arnaud and his father Yves came to find a passion for wine together, and once completing his degrees, Arnaud returned to help his father run the Domaine, producing wines from Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg.
The major turning point for Arnaud and his father was when they were given the opportunity to manage and maintain the vineyards of the Chateau de Breze, a UNESCO world heritage site with major holdings throughout Breze. Within these holdings were the individual Clos, each one with a unique terroir.
Understanding The Terroir of Breze
One of the first orders of business was to switch all of their holdings over to organic practices, while also focusing on training the vines and understanding the soils. This was no easy task, as the past fifty years of grape growing history in the region was mostly focused on quantity over quality, with the fruit being sold to the region’s cooperatives for the production of Cremant. What Arnaud came to understand was that each Clos was remarkably different, often dictated by the position on the Breze slope and a variation of soils, from shallow soils of limestone and rock to cooling clay and sand.
Since each separate parcel delivered a unique expression, the decision was made to farm and vinify each one separately, and, through experimentation, create a portfolio of unique wines. Unfortunately, Arnaud’s Father passed in 2011, just one year before their organic certification, yet having been able to witness much of the success of their labor.
Today, Arnaud uses small teams to work the individual vineyards so that each one can better exploit the terroir, which is imperative to properly tend the combined 50 hectares of Cab Franc and Chenin Blanc that is now managed under the Domaine Arnaud Lambert. He also strives to use as little sulfur as possible, with some wines in the portfolio now being bottled without any at all. The majority of the reds are vinified in either concrete or stainless steel, with a small number of prestige bottles that see varying degrees of neutral and new wood. Meanwhile, each Chenin sees as least some time in wood, usually neutral, with the top cuvees benefiting from small degrees of new oak.
So what about the wines?
First and foremost, they deliver a level of value that is unheard of in the world of wine today. My first glass containing the Clos Mazurique, a Cab Franc from silty, sandy soils over limestone in Breze, was spellbinding. From the first taste, I was enthralled by its layered floral bouquet and silky yet vibrant textures. We’re talking about a wine that would retail for around $20. Next was the Terres Rouges from clay and limestone soils in Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg–another stunner, but this time with deeper, darker textures offset by peppery spice and black tea. As I worked my way up to the Clos de l’Etoile, Arnaud’s top cuvee from sand and limestone soils in Breze that is aged for two years in a combination of new and neutral oak, I was amazed by how each cuvee seemed to turn up the dial on both depth and structure. The Clos de l’Etoile was a gorgeous wine for the cellar.
We then moved on to the Chenin Blanc, the variety this region is best known for, and these wines make the case for its reputation. Starting with the Breze-born Clos du Midi, grown in silty clay and sand on limestone, this is an amazing value and is absolutely stunning. However, I have to admit that the lineup of higher-end Chenin Blancs are what stole the show. These are wines that speak to everything I love about high altitude, acid-driven, minerally whites. Picking favorites was difficult, but I can say the the Les Perrieres from Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg was showing the most approachable on this day, while Clos David (usually my favorite from Breze) was being coy and clenched, and the Clos de la Rue stole my heart. Seriously, this is a wine that has it all; power, intensity, texture, structure and stimulating acidity. It was hard to put down.
I can’t recommend the Domaine Arnaud Lambert highly enough. What Arnaud has accomplished here is absolutely amazing, and I have to imagine that it’s only so long before the higher-end cuvees begin to receive the recognition they deserve. Hopefully, prices remain fair long enough to build a collection–did I forget to mention that these wines mature beautifully? Well, they do!
On to the tasting notes
The Reds (Rouge)
Domaine Arnaud Lambert Breze Saumur Clos Mazurique 2017 – The Clos Mazurique represents remarkable value, as a pretty bouquet of tart wild berry, spice, dried flowers, rosemary and minerals wafted up from the glass. On the palate, I found soft, enveloping textures offset by brisk acidity, showing deep, dark red fruits with inner perfumes and notes of bergamot, as saline-minerals saturated the senses. It finished medium-long with lingering notes of raspberry, black tea and inner floral tones. (91 points) No sulfur added!
Domaine Arnaud Lambert Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg Saumur Champigny Terres Rouges 2017 – Here I found a nose of crushed cherry and raspberry with fresh florals in a remarkably pretty expression. On the palate, I found soft textures, as notes of ripe raspberry, herbal tea, and peppery spice created a floral and lifted expression. The finish was medium in length and very clean with hints of fresh cherry and floral tones. (89 points) No sulfur added!
Domaine Arnaud Lambert Saumur Clos du tue-loup 2015 – The nose was dark and spicy, with black raspberry giving way to dried flowers, savory herbs and a hint of pepper. On the palate, I found soft textures with saturating red berries, contrasting saline-minerals and white pepper. The finish was long yet fresh and pure, lingering on raspberry, savory spice and saline-minerals. (90 points)
Domaine Arnaud Lambert Saumur Champigny Montée des Roches 2015 – The nose was dark and slightly exotic, gaining richness with time in the glass, as black cherry and dusty dried florals gave way to savory brown spices. On the palate, I found silky, enveloping textures, yet perfectly balanced with pure red fruits, inner florals and hints of pepper. The finish was long yet still soft and pure, as red berry tones slowly faded from the senses. (92 points)
Domaine Arnaud Lambert Saumur Champigny Clos Moleton 2014 – The nose was intense with spiced sweet cherry, dusty minerals, dried flowers and chalky stone dust. On the palate, I found soft textures with dense fleshy black cherry giving way to refreshing inner florals. It firmed up quickly with austere fine tannin yet maintained wonderful balance throughout. The finish was long and structured with palate-staining dark red fruits and refreshing minerality. (93 points)
Domaine Arnaud Lambert Saumur Clos de l’Etoile 2014 – Here I found a complex bouquet of dark red fruits with dried orange peel, pepper, stone dust, minerals and dark earth. On the palate, its textures seemed to envelope the senses with silky layers of mineral-infused red fruits and fine tannin. The finish was long, as raspberry and tart wild berry tones gave way to hints of savory herbs and clenching tannin. This needs many years to unfurl but should be gorgeous over time. (93 points) The Clos de l’Etoile pends two years in barrel, of which 50% are new.
The Whites (Blanc)
Domaine Arnaud Lambert Saumur Clos de Midi 2017 – The nose was wonderfully fresh and vibrant, with green melon and honeysuckle giving way to notes of apricot and sweet lifting minerals. On the palate, It was soft yet fresh, as lime-infused minerals with a saline twang gave way to fresh apple and cleansing acidity. The finish was zesty and long, lingering on acidity with saturating lime and mineral tones. (91 points)
Domaine Arnaud Lambert Saumur les Perrières 2017 – The nose was slightly restrained at first, gaining richness and an almost savory edge over time, showing dried peaches, citrusy herbs and dusty minerals. On the palate, I found soft textures with a lifting mix of zesty acids, inner florals, dried apricot, peaches and salty-savory minerality. The finish was long and spicy with a gorgeous wave of cleansing acid and minerals, as hints of green apple and citrus lingered long. This is a simply stunning wine that seemed to get better and better the longer it sat in the glass. (94 points)
Domaine Arnaud Lambert Saumur Clos David 2015 – The nose showed minerals up front along with a hint of iodine, as notes of dried flowers with young peach, mango and fresh yellow apple wafted up from the glass. On the palate, I found wonderfully soft textures offset by lime-infused acids, as ripe apple, spice and inner yellow florals washed across the senses. A twang of cheek-puckering acidity added a pleasurable bump of energy throughout the finale, as notes of green apple and minerals lingered on. (92 points)
Domaine Arnaud Lambert Saumur Clos de la Rue 2015 – The nose was all at once savory, pretty and intense, as dried apple gave way to dusty minerals, spicy florals and notes of ginger. On the palate, I found soft textures complemented by notes of dried apricot with minerals and lime, as the Clos de la Rue moved across the senses with laser-like precision. Cheek-puckering acidity defined the finish, yet in pleasurable fashion, with saturating apple, spice and minerals to offset the effect. This was so much fun to taste, and it’s a wine that really makes its presence known. (94 points)
Domaine Arnaud Lambert Saumur Coulée de st-Cyr 2014 – The nose was rich yet very pretty with sweet dried florals, almond tones and dusty minerals. On the palate, I found soft textures giving way to ripe apple, yet maintaining freshness through sweet inner florals and balancing acidity. The finish was medium-long with minerals upon minerals lasting on the senses, along with citrus-tinged apple and spice. (92 points)
Credits and Resources
Article, Tasting Notes and Photos by: Eric Guido
Vineyard and winery photos Courtesy of Domaine Arnaud Lambert.
A Profile of Domaine Arnaud Lambert from Becky Wasserman Importers
A special thank you to Strategic Wine Solutions for arranging the tasting and time with Arnaud Lambert.